The horror genre has been on a roll over the last few years, with almost every year in the last decade producing some kind of modern classic. From the rise of Ari Aster to the incredible Oscar-winning work of Jordan Peele, there’s no denying the ability to scare audiences is as great as it has been for many decades. While not quite at the flawless level of Get Out or Us, Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man is another example of the horror genre delivering another entertaining watch.
Elisabeth Moss stars as Cecilia, who hides away with childhood friend James (Aldis Hodge) having escaped an abusive relationship with with rich businessman Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Adrian is believed to have committed suicide, however Cecilia still finds herself troubled by him, and becomes convinced that Adrian is still alive but somehow invisible. Her claims fall on deaf ears at first, until the mystery behind the tragic events and murders surrounding Cecilia is finally revealed.
The Invisible Man feels as if it’s in two parts. While both strong individually, together they feel disjointed and it creates an uneven tone. The strongest is undoubtedly the first hour. It’s a gripping and unpredictable start where Cecilia’s sanity is questioned. Is she really being stalked, or is the psychological damage from her evil, abusive ex affecting her worse than first feared? Moss plays it brilliantly and the eerie atmosphere that plagues every scene Cecilia is in feels straight out of a Hitchcock classic. It’s a powerful commentary on the impacts of domestic violence.
Where it shifts in tone is when the mystery surrounding the events we’ve seen begin to unravel. The Invisible Man is no longer a psychological horror, but instead becomes much more of an action-heavy science-fiction movie. This isn’t an issue, and the ending is excellent and rewarding, but the jarring shift is the problem. If it wasn’t for the consistency of Moss and her character Cecilia’s arc, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a completely different film. What could have been a great film if it had stuck with one singular tone, is instead made to feel like two good separate ones.
As previously mentioned, Moss is absolutely incredible throughout, continuing the trend of horror films giving some of the best performances each year. Last year saw Lupita Nyong’o wow audiences in Us, while a couple years before that introduced Daniel Kaluuya to the world with an outstanding performance in Get Out. Moss’ performance is right up there, but that’s no surprise for those that have followed her work since the Mad Men days.
Praise must be had for the supporting cast too, even though their limited characters don’t allow for too many moments to shine. Aldis Hodge is solid as James, who is Cecilia’s rock throughout the first half, even though he finds himself questioning the situation at hand and whether he truly helped enough. Australian actress Harriet Dyer is tremendous as Cecilia’s sister, who is only featured in a couple of scenes, one of which the film’s most heartfelt and thrilling. Unfortunately the other characters – in particular Adrian’s brother and lawyer Tom – are one dimensional, making it impossible to become engaged by.
Director and writer Leigh Whannell has been around the horror genre his whole career and it shows. Despite the uneven tone, he captures the essence of cinematic horror wonderfully, knowing exactly when and how to build tension scene by scene. It may be the best work of his career, and his foray into directing having spent years solely as a writer seems to be working. Cinematographer Stefan Duscio also does great work capturing the film’s darker moments, while Benjamin Wallfisch’s score helps add to the tension but remains rather unmemorable afterwards.
H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel of the same name has been the source of many films over cinema’s history, however Elisabeth Moss’ performance puts this version right at the top of the pile despite its uneven tone. In an ideal world, Moss would be a contender for an Oscar nomination. With the performances of horrors improving with the various awards bodies, it’s not impossible to rule out any kind of recognition, even a SAG nomination like Nyong’o had achieved last year.